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Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Inspiration for The Silk Weaver’s Wife by Debbie Rix - Guest Post & Giveaway

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The inspiration for The Silk Weaver’s Wife
Guest post by Debbie Rix

Several years ago, I visited a beautiful villa near Verona built in the fifteenth century. It had been in the same family for generations, and as well as being run as a rather glamorous B & B, the owners also produced wine and had for many years, been part of the silk industry – producing raw silk on a small scale. The idea of setting a novel there began to niggle away at me and I started to research the Italian silk industry. For hundreds of years every small farm in Veneto had reared silkworms and produced high quality silk that was woven by the mills in Venice, and on Lake Como. But in the 1950s the industry went into a massive decline. In the course of my research I discovered a local Veneto entrepreneur who was doing his best to regenerate the silk industry, and that was my starting point. My novels have two storylines – one historical and one contemporary. I was keen to set the historical story in the eighteenth century when the silk industry was at its zenith; the contemporary story would follow a journalist as she covered the story of the regeneration and unraveled the hidden secrets in the beautiful villa in Veneto.

Central to the historical storyline was a female heroine involved in the silk industry. I was thrilled when I discovered that a British woman named Anna Maria Garthwaite had been a talented and famous silk designer in Spitalfields in the eighteenth century. I looked at her work in the V & A, and found her hugely inspirational. Although she wasn’t an actual character in my final novel, her work did inspire my Italian heroine. The final piece of the puzzle was an exhibition at the Queens Gallery in London of the work of artist and entymologist Maria Sybilla Merian. Based in Amsterdam, she painted butterflies and moths of all kinds – inspired originally by the metamorphosis of the silkworm. I resolved to connect her story with that of my central character.

I always begin my research in the same way - on the internet. I find academic papers, or discover books that will provide the necessary background detail. Then I might visit galleries in London, or speak to experts to see if the story ‘stands up’. But the real research happens when I travel to the various locations where the book will be set. In this case that meant travelling the Venice, Lake Como and Lake Garda initially. In the course of this trip, I met a jewellery entrepreneur who was trying to reinvigorate the silk industry and spent a fascinating day with him observing how silk cocoons are unraveled and spun. I visited a silk museum, where I learnt about the extraordinary life cycle of the silk worm. I went to see beautiful modern fabrics being produced at a state of the art modern silk mill. But the highlight of my research was a visit to the fabulous Bevilacqua silk mill in Venice where they still use 19th century Jacquard looms. They produce designs that have been in production for hundreds of years for the great and the good around the world –including various European royal families and successive popes.
The other locations in the novel are Amsterdam where Maria Merian lived, and Spitalfields in London, which was famous for its silk production. I spent a fascinating afternoon at Dennis Severs’ house - which is an almost perfect reincarnation of an 18th century silk weaver’s house. Once I’ve visited the locations and read the books, I just have to start writing. I get into the heads of my characters and, with luck, am able to recall the wonderful places I have visited and, hopefully, describe it with honesty and passion.

About Debbie Rix

I started writing novels after a long career in broadcasting and journalism.

My first novel: Secrets of the Tower was published in March 2015. Set in two time zones - the modern day and 12th century it explores the extraordinary woman who left the money to build the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

My second novel: Daughters of the Silk Road is published on April 15th 2016. It follows the journey of a family of merchant explorers who return to Venice from China with a Ming Vase. The book again straddles two time zones.

I live in Kent with my family, four cats and 8 chickens.

Author links



One very lucky reader of With Love For Books will win a digital copy of The Silk Weaver’s Wife by Debbie Rix.

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The winner will be notified by email and has 3 days to respond. All of our giveaways are international.


  1. I love historical fiction and The Silk Weaver’s Wife sounds like a beautifully written story with wonderful characters - fictional interwoven with real historical people.

  2. Wow. The various inspirations for The Silk Weaver's Wife were stories unto themselves.

  3. this looks fab, I love this genre!

  4. This is a new author to me and I love looking and reading new authors! This book sounds so good would love to read and will post reviews on amazon and goodreads!

  5. I enjoy historical fiction! Debbie, this story sounds wonderful!

  6. What an interesting book! Thanks for sharing your inspiration.

  7. Sounds good!


  8. I love hearing about this. Also, now I have an urge to own a silk dress.

  9. Debbie's research sounds fascinating - worthy of it's own story!